Friday, November 18, 2011
WTF? Say it ain't so, Trader Joe!
It's been a tough week for public space, with all the coordinated and often brutal assaults on people exercising their 1st Amendment rights all around the country. That's why, when I saw this sign at my local Trader Joe's, I just snapped. I was angry, and my first impulse was to abandon my cart and just leave.
Don't get me wrong. I love Trader Joe's and shop there frequently. So do a lot of people -- which is why people have been standing outside collecting Recall Walker signatures since Tuesday. The demographics are perfect, and the high foot traffic doesn't hurt. That's just another reason why I found the sign so appalling.
There had been people collecting signatures earlier in the day, and now there were none -- just this sign. Had Trader Joe's somehow managed to drive them off, even though they were on public property (the sidewalk and the entrance to the adjacent enclosed city-owned parking lot)? And even if they weren't responsible for their departure, what were they doing labeling people engaged in legitimate political action "solicitors"? What were they apolgizing for? Whose side were they on, anyhow?
We already have too many corporate infringements on free speech and public space. I hate confrontations, but I knew I had to talk to the manager. I asked him what the sign was about, and he said it was corporate policy not to take sides. Also, there were complaints about the recall petitioners hassling patrons on the way into the store. (Since I can't imagine anyone doing anything so counterproductive as hassling store customers while trying to collect their signatures, I figured the complaints were either from people with over-sensitive nerves, or more likely, pro-Walker troublemakers.)
I said I understood their not taking side, nobody expects a national corporation to endorse the recall. But the sign, with its "apology," made it look as if they were taking sides -- against the recall. Didn't he know they had a perfect right to be on public space outside the store? The sign made it look as if they made them leave.
He seemed shocked by the idea. Said he knew they were on public property, and that they had left for the day on their own (this was about 7:15pm). Of course they had a perfect right to be there. The sign was just Trader Joe's way of saying they were neutral.
I said I thought the "apology" was offensive and would be to many other customers as well. Likewise the "solicitors" appellation. I said I wouldn't be able to keep shopping there if the sign stayed up.
He said he saw what I meant and that he would talk to his boss about what to do. He was friendly and conciliatory, and I left it that.
This afternoon the sign was gone, and someone was collecting signatures out in front again. I showed him my photo of the sign and told him about my discussion the night before. He said he had been there yesterday, too, and had also complained -- but was only told that it was company policy. "You got further than I did," he said. I said I doubted it was just me, but that probably lots of people had complained.
We all need to let corporations know when they cross the line in infringing on public space. The Constitution guarantees us the right to free assembly, but it's one of those rights that tends to shrivel up if it's not exercised.